Strawberry Muffins (with a touch o’ Balsamic)

Who doesn’t love strawberries! And now that it’s December… they’re here… in season and I am overjoyed.

Gorgeous aren’t they?

So I saw these delicious mouthfuls of goodness sitting on the shelf at the supermarket just waiting for someone to pick ‘em up, take ‘em home and make ‘em into something scrumptious. And I figured why not go the muffin way… especially since my evening coffee was turning into a drag without a suitable accompaniment.

So the strawberries were sliced and diced and married with balsamic vinegar and sugar… what else??…

(before adding in 1/4 teaspoonfuls of both clove and nutmeg powder… for the extra zing)… and allowing the fruit to macerate for about an hour.

Then butter met sugar, met an egg, whipped up with 3/4 cup of low-fat milk (you can also use buttermilk)…

… before the vanilla extract found its way in… not much, a 1/2 teaspoon should do nicely.

Wet ingredients… all done… Check!

Now in a separate bowl flour and baking powder were sieved together with a pinch of salt… before the wet ingredients were added in.

Care should be taken to not over-mix the batter… fold… fold… fold…

Then swiftly add in the macerated strawberries, folding them into the batter with deft strokes of the spatula.

Spooning the batter into paper-cup lined muffin trays and dusting the tops with a blend of icing sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Before baking them in a 200 degrees C pre-heated oven, for about 20 – 25 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Remove the muffins from the oven onto a cooking rack and dust the tops again with the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg blend… just to give it that feeling of Christmas… (We could do with some snow in Mumbai for a change).

Fix yourself a nice big mug of coffee…

…and dig in…

Enjoy!

Moving

So I’m off on a break.

Or am I?

But this isn’t one of those breaks where I sit in meditative silence, contemplating nothing, and everything. It’s more of a hiatus from things I usually do… to pack and move house… a return to my nomadic ways of not knowing what and when. Just more of the same really, in a different setting.

And believe me when I say that there’s nothing worse for a woman hitting her mid-forties than moving house… yet again…. and I’m quite the pro.

Oh the forties… when everything seems to go out of whack, but then you realise that nature’s just playing with ya… it’s the teaser before the show. So you’ll have your fair share of ills and ails, and menopause will loom large, and then retreat behind some mirage. Given all this I would rather back-peddle time and head out into the vast unknown… what else is there really?… Gigantic backpack on my back, and a large tube of iodex in hand, rather than get a slip-disc from packing a couple of boxes.

Moving house can be a real back-breaker especially when you’ve been malingering with that exercise routine you set out for yourself, and the only walking you do is taking the stairs wherever you go.

Okay…  I try!

But this time it’s a double whammy… I’m moving multiple houses, not just the one I live in, in Mumbai, my temporary home, but the one I have in a small town near Mumbai. A place that’s been more of a refuge than a permanent home, where I have come to unwind and recharge… a place where I did live for a while, briefly, but which gave me enough to fill my heart and soul with wonderful memories and with both joys and sorrows. The only downside is that I’ve accumulated so much stuff over the past four decades of living that Noah would probably leave me standing at the pier, baggage-in-tow even if I was the last woman left on earth.

So my break consists of de-cluttering, of sifting and sorting through piles of… everything, and since most of my things comprise either books, art material or kitchen supplies I’m not keen to get rid of any of it… boxing it all, into cartons marked – ‘Immediate’, ‘After-a-while’, and ‘Can be saved for posterity’, which though quite a task in itself, has been made immensely easy thanks to the generosity of a friend who sent in an armful of boxes and carton tape with her name emblazoned all over it.

At least the chances of my stuff getting misplaced during the great move will get drastically reduced.

Unfortunately all this frenetic activity has left me with little energy to cook, and apart from a hastily thrown together fried rice, with oyster and button mushrooms, fiery green chillies, fresh green peas, French beans  and baby corn, flavoured with star anise and a few cinnamon sticks, that I dished up one afternoon… I haven’t cooked anything else…

So it’s been take-out…

And the picture speaks for itself…

So yeah, it is tough moving, even for a self-proclaimed nomad, but as far as this little space of mine goes, it’s more of an a bientôt instead of an au-revoir kind of thing… so parting isn’t such sorrow. But I’ll miss the December sunsets from my bedroom window, with the sun retreating in a blaze into the trees and buildings in the distance, tinting the sky with passion, as if to say, “Hey! It’s too early… someone’s gotta turn back the clock”.

Then I’ll sit in the warm glow of a candle as the night grows colder, and sip some wine… content that I’m almost all done… but wistful and contemplative as the flame arises and passes.

And I’ll curl up under my quilt as the day ends… to wake up to the morning sun and the Buddha in deep meditation at my window…

Have a wonderful new week!

Onion Crusty Bread

There’s nothing as heavenly as the aroma of bread baking in the oven… except perhaps for the scent of wet earth when the skies open to bring forth the first rains of the monsoon in India…but then again, with bread, you get to take in not just the aroma, but the first bite of warm goodness, slathered in butter… or even on its own. It doesn’t really matter when it’s fresh off the oven. It tastes divine any way.

I’ve been dying to bake crusty bread for ages but was a bit apprehensive about it turning out right. The ‘what ifs’ started invading my thoughts and managed to put a damper on my usual enthusiasm till I finally decided to shrug it off. What’s the worst that could happen I though when the braves revisited… a clump of yeasty smelling raw dough or perhaps a big hunk of rock… and then I would start again.

So I got right down to it and decided to go all out and not just make Crusty Bread but an Onion Crusty Bread with fried onions. I had a packet of fried onions in my refrigerator and figured I’d use them instead of going through the entire chop, fry, drain n dry process.

It’s also important when baking bread to use yeast that is isn’t outdated, whether you’re using instant dry yeast or fresh yeast (I used fresh yeast).

All it takes is flour, yeast and salt (1 teaspoon salt should be good for 2 1/2 cups of flour… I also added in a pinch of sugar to get things moving)

Proving the dough is an important process… so don’t skimp on the time. I left the dough sitting for about 5 hours before kneading it again and shaping it into loaves…

Then left the loaves to sit for an a couple of hours before baking them in a 220 – 230 degree Celsius oven for approximately 30 minutes covered… and 15 – 20 minutes uncovered.Removed the loaves from the oven… placed them on a wire rack to cool a bit… brushed off the excess flour…

And cut myself a nice slice… slathered on the butter while it was still warm… And… It was heavenly!

I suppose fortune does favour the brave! 

Apples, Raisins and Salted Honey Pistachio Cupcakes

It’s always lovely catching up with old friends… especially when more than a decade has elapsed since the time you last met and you know that that won’t matter at all when you finally do.

That time while seemingly at a standstill in some ways, may have galloped along in so many others. But where growth and change embraces familiarity with such ease, that it’s comforting.

So naturally I wanted to carry something special when I went across to meet my old friend, and what better I thought, than a batch of home baked cupcakes. The only problem was I didn’t have the time to go out shopping for ingredients and though I had the basics I didn’t know what else I would find in my pantry.

What I did find were raisins, a few apples and a couple of jars full of pistachios, walnuts and almonds. And here they are…my Apple, Raisins and Salted Honey Pistachio Cupcakes.

These cupcakes were made in a flash, once the raisins were halved and stewed in a heady mix of rum, cinnamon and cloves.

The grated apples, added halfway through the stewing process, broke down the apples just enough to infuse them with the spiced rum and raisins, till it all came together into a richly flavoured deep golden melange…

The pistachios drizzled with honey, sprinkled with rock salt and roasted at 180 degrees C… sat alongside the raisin and apple mix… cooling down until it was time.

And then butter, sugar and eggs creamed together with a pinch of salt and some vanilla extract, met with the fruit mix, the flour and the nuts… and the batter found its way into star shaped muffin moulds….

Baked at 180 degrees C for approx 25 – 30 minutes… cooled, flipped over… just for the joy of it (I thought they looked prettier bottom side up)…

I had some frosting sitting in my freezer so I splashed in some rum, to get it up and going and then poured the frosting over the cakes, letting it rum… oops run over the sides…

And my friend loved them…

So a silent prayer of thanksgiving goes out to the heavens for friends, for the purity of friendships and for love that transcends time and age.

And for…

all things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful

…and for the Lord God who made them all!

Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I suppose my love for bread comes from being Goan, and having experienced the joys of beautifully baked bread whenever we visited Goa during our yearly summer vacations. From the basic Pao and Poee (Poi) to the Bakri and the ring shaped Kanconn, to the numerous varieties that the village ‘poder’ or baker delivered to our doorstep morning and noon, just in time for breakfast and tea. Every one of those loaves of bread so distinct, so full of flavour, and still warm, they dance around the edges of my tongue and my mind as I relive those memories… So many varieties, I can’t recall all their names.

Even back home, Bandra where I grew up was dotted with numerous Irani and the odd Goan bakery or two that made both the soft pao and its crustier cousin the brun pao. None of those packed loaves of the flavourless sliced variety, sitting encased in plastic bags, waiting, characterless and forlorn for someone to pick them up from the corner store made it to our table, at least not very often.

I’ve always wanted to bake delicious bread… forming it into loaves, shaping it… my love for clay and working with it made me figure that it wouldn’t be such a difficult task. And despite being a fine art, the process is really quite simple, with the easiest of ingredients… flour, water, salt and yeast… in some cases without the yeast. All it takes is love and a pair of caring hands.

And then comes what’s known as artisan bread… which is really nothing but small batches of focaccia, ciabatta, country loaves, sour-dough and baguettes among others, all hand-crafted and at times combined with an array of scrumptious ingredients, ranging from cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar or Mozarella to name a few) to sun-dried tomatoes, caramelised onions, or even the finest olives… the list is endless.

Traditionally artisan bread is made in old-fashioned masonry ovens, but even a tiny regular home oven can produce the most amazing loaves of bread, and it isn’t all that difficult to make.

Here’s a Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-Dried Tomatoes. I had the sun-dried tomatoes sitting in rosemary and garlic  infused olive oil for a week, just to develop a few more flavours and I used both the olive oil and the tomatoes for this recipe along with a generous handful of Parmesan and some parsley while working the dough.

After almost 2 hours of letting the soft elastic dough prove or rise…

Proving the Dough

… I  knocked it back (in a quick punching motion) and worked it a bit before placing it onto the baking tray to sit for an additional twenty to twenty-five minutes (I lined the tray with a bit of oil).

Knocked back... but not out!

Finally stretching out the dough using my fingertips and finishing it up by making a few rapid jabbing motions into the dough to give it that dimpled effect…

All Dimpled!

Brushing the top with olive oil, a generous sprinkling of oregano, chopped rosemary and a bit of rock salt… and it was oven ready…

Snug as a bug!

I took a tip from a Lesley Waters recipe I came across and sprayed the top of the focaccia with water a couple of times to allow it to steam as it baked…

And here it is…

Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-dried Tomatoes

I wanted to eat it no sooner it was out of the oven, but I turned it onto a rack to cool before slicing it… and wow!

Pan Grilled Barbecue Chicken

If you’ve ever lived in Mumbai you’ll know that this city just doesn’t have the space to set up a Barbi unless you append an e at the end!

But I have this grill pan that works wonders.

So I put together a few aromatics (read spices)… quite a few aromatics actually, pan roasted them just a tad to release their natural flavours and oils, and pounded them in my mortar and pestle.

The aroma was heady…

Caution: Don’t stick your nose too close to the picture

Then coated the chicken quite liberally with it…

So it sat, that chicken… soaking in all those wonderful flavours. And then it was time for the wet rub (I used a bit of yoghurt)…

Before it hit the sizzling hot grill…

And finally a good dunking into my own blend of barbecue sauce (the yoghurt features here as well… )

Bon Apetit!

Or should I swing hammer to gong n yell… “Come n get it!”

Orange, Rosemary and Bacon Savoury Cookies

This savoury cookie was made for a friend who isn’t a fan of the sweeter versions, and who loves bacon and oranges… in that order. And she loved it.

I used Kinu Oranges that I chanced upon in the market, because they are juicier and sweeter than the regular oranges and they’re also great for zesting. And I suppose because they just called out to me in all their vibrancy as I passed by. But you can use regular oranges as well, just ensure that the skin is firm and not too dimpled. In fact I hope I chance upon Blood Oranges sometime soon, I would love to use them in this recipe.

You don’t need to, but I would recommend adding a teaspoonful of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the oranges and to balance out the acidity from the juice and zest, as well as to spar with the bacon drippings (2 or at the most 3 tablespoonfuls to 1 1/2 cups of flour are more than enough) and the crumbled bacon bits (not more than 3 rashers of streaky bacon – cooked and crumbled). A couple of tablespoonfuls of buttermilk and a sprig or two of finely chopped fresh rosemary (1 1/2 tablespoons should do the job nicely) balances everything out perfectly. 

Orange, Rosemary and Bacon Savoury Cookies